The announcement that the deadline for entrants to REPS 4 is May 15th will seriously limit the growth of the organic farming sector this year. This leaves farmers 6 weeks to finalise their REPS Plans and enter into the scheme. This is not realistic as many potential members had hoped to join the scheme throughout the year or had planned to do so once their current REPS Plan had finished later in the year.
At a time when the Minister for Food and Horticulture, Trevor Sargent T.D. is calling for more entrants into the organic sector it is disappointing that these new regulations have been issued by the Commission. The regulations will force farmers wishing to join the new Organic Farming Scheme in 2008 to apply to the Department by the 15th of May or to defer joining for another year. This will seriously affect the numbers joining the scheme as farmers intending to convert need time to consider their options and plan their conversion in an organised way.
The new Commission Regulations also lay down rules for the way in which farmers will be paid under the new Organic Farming Scheme:
â€¢ Payment will be on a calendar year basis; in other words a farmer will be paid for the number of months in the year in which he or she is in the Scheme.
â€¢ Payment will be in two stages. The first payment, which will be at the rate of 75%, will be released when the administrative checks (both for the Scheme itself and for the Single Payment Scheme) are completed. In practice this is likely to be early autumn.
â€¢ The remaining 25% will be released when the last of the on-farm inspections for the year has taken place. This is likely to be towards the end of the year, probably December
These regulations from the Commission are an attempt to centralise all farm payments and in the long term are intended to lead to more efficient use of resources in Europe. However in the meantime the organic sector in Ireland may suffer as it may not get farmers converting to organics in large numbers this year.
The programme for government set out a target of 5% of land to be certified organic by 2012 which will require large numbers of farmers converting each year. This will also ensure that growth in the sector is market led.
There is a growing demand for organic products among Irish consumers and it is important that the sector is able to meet that demand with high quality organic Irish food. This is a challenge which remains elusive while regulations such as this regarding REPS 4 and the Organic Farming Scheme are made with little regard for the organic sector.
Press release issued April 4th 08